China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Focusing on the Qing empire, this panel takes a new look at the working of empire from the perspectives of environment, resource management, and knowledge-making. Weaving together approaches from the history of science, economic history, environmental history, and art history, we showcase four key resources crucial to early modern statecraft: metals, timber, gemstones and chemicals. The trajectories of these resources from their harvest to exploitation not only connected diverse sites of production and consumption but also linked the disparate knowledge systems of merchants, artisans, and officials who inhabited different parts of the empire. First, Yijun Wang explores the role that mineral mines and the local knowledge of metallurgy played in the dialogue between the Qing court and provincial governors as they sought to solve a currency crisis. Next, Ching-fei Shih shows how imperial enamelware materialized the linkage between new pigments and collaborative experiments among artisans in different regions. Zhijian Qiao’s study of a Shanxi jade smuggler, on the other hand, underlines how the transmission of mercantile knowledge served to circumvent state supervision. For Kyoungjin Bae, finally, the replacement of precious domestic red sandalwood with imported South Asian species spurred cross-cultural exchanges between the botanical knowledge systems of Chinese and European merchants. Our focus on the material dimensions of empire demonstrates that history is no longer seen as the prerogative of Confucian scholars alone. It was molded equally by interactions between human actors such as technical experts, artisans, miners, merchants, and smugglers and non-human actors such as minerals, gemstones, and timber.